Effects of vertical wind shear on the intensity and structure of numerically simulated hurricanes

W. M. Frank, E. A. Ritchie

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A series of numerical simulations of tropical cyclones in idealized large-scale environments is performed to examine the effects of vertical wind shear on the structure and intensity of hurricanes. The simulations are performed using the nonhydrostatic Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research fifth-generation Mesoscale Model using a 5-km fine mesh and fully explicit representation of moist processes. When large-scale vertical shears are applied to mature tropical cyclones, the storms quickly develop wave-number one asymmetries with upward motion and rainfall concentrated on the left side of the shear vector looking downshear, in agreement with earlier studies. The asymmetries develop due to the storm's response to imbalances caused by the shear. The storms in shear weaken with time and eventually reach an approximate steady-state intensity that is well below their theoretical maximum potential intensity. As expected, the magnitude of the weakening increases with increasing shear. All of the storms experience time lags between the imposition of the large-scale shear and the resulting rise in the minimum central pressure. While the lag is at most a few hours when the storm is placed in very strong (15 m s-1) shear, storms in weaker shears experience much longer lag times, with the 5 m s-1 shear case showing no signs of weakening until more than 36 h after the shear is applied. These lags suggest that the storm intensity is to some degree predictable from observations of large-scale shear changes. In all cases both the development of the asymmetries in core structure and the subsequent weakening of the storm occur before any resolvable tilt of the storm's vertical axis occurs. It is hypothesized that the weakening of the storm occurs via the following sequence of events: First, the shear causes the structure of the eyewall region to become highly asymmetric throughout the depth of the storm. Second, the asymmetries in the upper troposphere, where the storm circulation is weaker, become sufficiently strong that air with high values of potential vorticity and equivalent potential temperature are mixed outward rather than into the eye. This allows the shear to ventilate the eye resulting in a loss of the warm core at upper levels, which causes the central pressure to rise, weakening the entire storm. The maximum potential vorticity becomes concentrated in saturated portions of the eyewall cloud aloft rather than in the eye. Third, the asymmetric features at upper levels are advected by the shear, causing the upper portions of the vortex to tilt approximately downshear. The storm weakens from the top down, reaching an approximate steady-state intensity when the ventilated layer can descend no farther due to the increasing strength and stability of the vortex at lower levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2249-2269
Number of pages21
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2001
Externally publishedYes

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